Active Kids Are Healthy Kids: Back to School with Congressional Youth Initiatives

By Pannell, Joel | Parks & Recreation, September 2011 | Go to article overview

Active Kids Are Healthy Kids: Back to School with Congressional Youth Initiatives


Pannell, Joel, Parks & Recreation


AS THE BLISTERING SUMMER OF 2011 winds down, children across the country are returning to classrooms and the annual "back to school" mode is once again upon us. While many focus on acquiring school supplies and mentally preparing for another school year, a slightly different issue of increasing importance is being discussed on Capitol Hill and throughout the country.

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Children today spend less time outdoors than any generation in human history, devoting just four to seven minutes a day on average in unstructured outdoor play while spending an average of seven and a half hours every day in front of electronic media. A lack of physical activity has led to serious health problems for too many of our children and put them on a fast track for chronic disease. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), childhood obesity rates have nearly tripled in the last three decades and obesity-related health problems cost Americans hundreds of billions of doUars each year. Not only are today's youth at risk of having a shorter life-span than their parents, our national security is also threatened as nearly one in four applicants to the military is rejected for being overweight or obese--it's the most common reason for medical disqualification.

Some members of Congress are not taking these issues lightly. In late July, Representative Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Youth Sports, unveiled the F.A.N.S. for Youth Sports legislative package. "All across our country, youth sports are shaping both the physical and character development of our children," McIntyre says. "We must do our part to strengthen youth sports and ensure that our nation's youth have every opportunity to learn the valuable lessons that youth sports offer. This agenda represents a renewed commitment to our youth and their futures." F.A.N.S. stands for Fitness, Access, Nutrition, and Safety and the agenda includes more than a dozen bills and initiatives aimed at getting youth more physically active and giving families more access to healthy recreation opportunities.

The F.A.N.S. for Youth Sports legislative initiative includes the Urban Revitalization and Livable Communities Act (H.R. 709) introduced by Congressman Albio Sires of New Jersey. This bill represents one of NRPA's highest policy priorities, because it would create federal grant funding through the Department of Housing and Urban Development to revitalize urban areas through local parks and recreation projects and youth programs. The package also includes support for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, requesting "consistent and robust funding for FY12 to continue ensuring access to ball parks, soccer fields, and green spaces for millions of youth."

Additionally, the youth sports package includes support for programs such as the Physical Education Program (PEP), Safe Routes to Schools, and numerous other measures based on the four main pillars of youth sports involvement as described in the F.A.N.S acronym.

No Child Left Inside (NCLI) and the Healthy Kids Outdoors Act (HKOA) represent two additional bills aimed at reconnecting children with nature and getting them active and outdoors. NCLI, reintroduced by Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island (S. 1372) and Congressman John Sarbanes of Maryland (HR 2547), seeks to amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to include environmental education. By authorizing funding for the development and implementation of state environmental literacy plans, teacher professional development grants, and an Environmental Education Grant Program, NCLI addresses the unintended consequence of the ESEA--a loss of instruction time for environmental education. …

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